San Francisco Supervisors Increase Pressure on Schools to Reopen

San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday increased the pressure on schools to reopen, passing a resolution that urged the city’s school district to shorten the timeline for bringing students back into classrooms.

The nonbinding resolution doesn't set a deadline for reopening or spell out how the district should proceed. But supervisors want to send a strong message about the urgency of providing an option for in-person learning.

Speaking during a meeting held virtually, Supervisor Hillary Ronen invoked the city’s public commitment to values of equity and social justice in urging her colleagues to support the motion.

“I’m not sure anything is more important to these principles than getting our elementary age students who are failing during distance learning back in classrooms,” Ronen said. “If we don’t, we will look back at this time and say we all failed.”

During the public comment period, Kevin Robinson, one of many San Francisco Unified School District parents who welcomed the resolution, cited the aphorism, "When white America sneezes, Black America gets pneumonia."

"That’s literally and figuratively happening as we speak,” he said. “Child abuse, eating disorders and suicide have been on the rise in communities of color.”

A Leonard Flynn Elementary School parent appeared near tears as she told supervisors that distance learning was affecting her job performance and her kindergartener’s mental health.

“Please, please help us,” she pleaded.

Other parents, though, expressed concerns about reopening. One mentioned teachers he knew who had contracted the virus after returning to the classroom, also referring to an outbreak at his first grader’s summer camp.

The district had planned to start bringing students back to campuses Jan. 25, but it announced last week the date would be pushed back in order to reach a deal with employee unions.

School Board Vice President Gabriela López said in a text message that the resolution could help solidify support from the unions and “ensure the City guarantees the safe working conditions we want for our staff." But she also echoed concerns raised by teachers about the lack of understanding about what goes on in schools.

“To be frank, all the pressure and pushback comes from city leaders who don’t understand what working in a classroom entails. Nor are they currently out on the front lines,” López wrote.

She said that school board commissioners have previously approached supervisors with requests for items like fans for ventilation or mental health workers, and “they haven’t acted on it."

San Francisco teacher Michelle Cody said she found it "really disrespectful that you all can’t even meet together in a room, and you want us teachers to go back and organize students. You don’t understand all the things that go into keeping kids safe.”

The resolution also calls on school leaders and staff to outline financial, technical and other needs so that the city or private funders can step in to help.

“Once there’s a plan, only then can this city help provide the school district with the necessary resources to help carry out that plan,” Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said. “My hope is that my colleagues on this board will have the chance to help our school district reopen safely.”

Vanessa Rancaño

Santa Clara County Expanding Vaccine Eligibility to Farmer Workers Sunday

In a recent study, UCSF researchers looked at occupational risks for COVID-19 and found that agriculture workers were among the jobs with the highest death rates from the coronavirus because of the essential in-person work they do.

Dr. Walt Newman, a family practitioner in San Jose, has been working for months with Santa Clara County and the United Farm Workers Union to get vaccines out to farm workers.

“The problem is that farm workers often don’t have computer access,” Newman said. “So the vaccination rates are very low.”

Newman felt a sense of urgency in getting vaccination efforts started with the group. Researchers from the UCSF study found that Latino and Black populations face additional risks because they disproportionately make up California’s essential workforce. During the pandemic, Latino farm workers saw an almost 60 percent uptick in deaths when compared to before the pandemic started.

Newman worked with the county to devise a plan to make vaccinations more accessible: bringing the vaccines to the workers.

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“We all believe that the uptick of vaccines will be much higher in the workplace, rather than having them make an online reservation, go to a fairground,” Newman said. “I mean, many of these folks are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Starting Sunday, February 28, Santa Clara County will start vaccinating farm workers at Monterey Mushrooms in Morgan Hill, one of the largest agricultural employers in the Bay Area.

“The facility employs about 400 employees. So we’re really excited. We moved the mountain,” Newman said.

The County plans to deliver and vaccinate more than a thousand farm workers at the facility between Sunday and Wednesday, March 3. In another month, the county will be back to administer the second round of vaccinations.

Adhiti Bandlamudi

California to Hand Over Vaccine Distribution Keys to Blue Shield on Monday

California is attempting to streamline how people receive coronavirus vaccines by transitioning the state to a single network managed by the Oakland-based health insurance company Blue Shield.

The move begins on March 1, when California will begin the process, which will unfold in several phases. By the end of March, the company will fully manage the state’s vaccine network.

Counties have expressed concerns that the transition will disrupt their current operations just as they are getting online. And they worry Blue Shield doesn’t have existing community relationships.

In a call with reporters, Paul Markovich, the company's CEO, asked Californians to “give us a chance to make this work.”

“I think there's been a lot of speculation of all the things that could potentially go wrong,” he said. “It's our job to get this to work, and work for everybody.”

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San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda and most Bay Area counties will join the network on March 7.

Another change: Counties will no longer have control over vaccine eligibility, which will be determined by the state beginning March 1. Officials say that anyone who is currently eligible will remain so.

Over time, health care providers and county clinics will be required to use, or connect into, My Turn, the state's tool that allows Californians to see if they're currently eligible for the vaccine and to sign up for notifications about eligibility and scheduling.

Health officials hope the move will give the state greater visibility into who is getting vaccinated and how to “better fine tune equity-focused allocation and outreach efforts,” according to a health department press release.

Officials say California will start the month with the capacity to administer 3 million vaccine doses each week, although supplies remain limited.

Kevin Stark

Four Bay Area Counties Cut Off COVID-19 Doses to One Medical

Four Bay Area counties are no longer sending COVID-19 vaccine doses to One Medical after recent revelations that the San Francisco-based boutique health care provider allowed some well-connected patients to skip ahead in line, despite not yet being eligible.

Public health officials in San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Marin counties this week all said they’ve suspended deliveries of vaccine doses to the company.

On Monday, the San Francisco Public Health Department ordered the company to return over 1,600 hundred doses of the vaccine.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney says he plans to follow up with the city attorney about investigating the company’s actions.

“We need all of the providers who are receiving the vaccine to share demographic information about who is receiving it and what category they fall into,” he said.

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One Medical denies it knowingly disregarded eligibility guidelines, and says it was transparent with San Francisco about its process, and similarly, acted in good faith when it vaccinated teachers in San Mateo County.

— Julie Chang

Newsom: Third Vaccine Could Speed Up State's Rollout

An expert panel convened by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday endorsed the coronavirus vaccine produced by the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Speaking earlier in the day during a visit to Fresno County, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the availability of that third vaccine could speed up California’s timeline for providing shots.

Following strong criticism from disability advocates, the state said that starting March 15, people ages 16-64 who have disabilities or health conditions that put them at higher risk, will be eligible for vaccinations based on the "clinical judgment" of health care providers.

Speaking to reporters, the governor indicated that date may now be moved up even farther.

"I'm not sure we want to wait till March 15th,” Newsom said. “The reason we're feeling we can do that is we have a preview into increased allocations, particularly J & J, that give us confidence in that ability to be more flexible in terms of moving that date forward to accommodate those unique needs of unique individuals that are struggling with those comorbidities.”

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California has administered more than 8 million coronavirus vaccine doses, and Newsom said the state is rapidly increasing its capacity. Eleven new vaccination sites opened in the Central Valley this week.

Newsom said he expects more than 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to arrive in California next week.

“Take the shot when it’s your turn,” he said. “Get any of these shots, it’s going to save lives.”

— Kevin Stark

Santa Clara County Relaxes Restrictions on Outdoor Gatherings and Youth Activities, Indoor Dining May Follow

Santa Clara County lifted several of its COVID-19 restrictions Friday. The county relaxed restrictions around outdoor gatherings and youth recreation activities amid a drop in COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, a new vaccination site is opening in East San Jose at the Valley Health Center East Valley, also known as the East Valley Clinic.

The new site is aimed to lessen disparities in vaccination availability to communities of color, according to Dr. Gerardo Solorio-Cortes, a primary care physician at Valley Health Center in Gilroy.

“East side residents know the toll of COVID-19 all too well,” Solorio-Cortes said. “Your community has faced amongst the highest infection rates. And particularly the Latino, Latinx population has been disproportionately affected.”

Emmanuel Baptist Church and Gilroy High School are the two other vaccination sites open in the county targeting communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

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Currently, 177,000 people in Santa Clara County have received their first vaccine dose through county sites, and around 9,000 people a day are expected to be vaccinated within the next week.

Their biggest obstacle is still limited supply, said Dr. Jennifer Tong, the county’s associate chief medical officer.

However, the newly approved Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine will expand inventory.

“Due to the fact that it’s one dose and has less intense cold chain storage requirements, it gives us more flexibility to reach the highest-risk communities who might have difficulty being reached for their second dose,” Tong said.

The county is expected to enter the state’s red tier next Wednesday, March 3, which would lift restrictions on indoor dining and other businesses.

Even so, health officials continue to recommend taking the same basic precautions to limit COVID-19 exposure.

“Please remember as we wait to vaccinate the whole population, continue to wear a mask, maintain social distance, get tested regularly and get vaccinated when your time is up,” Solorio-Cortes said.

Gabriella Frenes

California Ends Coronavirus Testing Contract With Verily

The state of California has ended its coronavirus testing contract with Verily. The life sciences company, based in South San Francisco, is a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

A spokesperson for Verily said the California Department of Public Health told the company it wants to streamline resources with one vendor, OptumServ.

State health officials contracted with Verily in March 2020 to help provide coronavirus testing when it was scarce. But questions arose around access to the tests for people who don’t speak English or lack an internet connection or smartphone, issues that Verily says it worked to address. The cost of the tests was also a factor.

Deputy County Manager Justin Mates oversees COVID-19 testing for San Mateo County, which ended its own contract with Verily in January. He said the company wasn't "as competitive as other vendors in their ability to really implement insurance billing with their model. And so that per test cost then looked a lot more."

San Mateo County paid Verily as much as $128 per test when insurance didn't cover it.

Over the course of its contract with the state, Verily operated in 30 counties across California.

Polly Stryker

California to Dedicate 75,000 Doses Per Week to Teachers, Education Staff

California released a new plan Thursday outlining how the state will allocate vaccines to education workers as Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to push to reopen more schools to in-person instruction.

The Democratic governor announced last week that at least 10% of the state's vaccines would go to education workers starting in March, which translates to roughly 75,000 dedicated doses a week.

On Thursday, his office released an overview showing how those vaccines would be distributed. Each week, the state will provide doses to county offices of education for distribution. Teachers and other education workers will get single-use codes to make expedited appointments online.

The state will also host targeted drives for education staff at two mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles that are run in partnership with the federal government.

If 75,000 vaccine doses do come through each week, it could be a matter of weeks for California's 320,000 K-12 public school teachers to be inoculated.

The governor's office said it will allocate doses to counties based on the number of school employees there and also with an eye toward ensuring that students most affected by the pandemic — homeless and foster youth, low-income students and English learners — get back into the classroom.

Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the plan helps move teachers closer to returning to classrooms but it’s still too soon to forecast a date for full reopening. CFT is recommending that school staff wait until they receive the second dose of vaccine before they return to in-person instruction.

At least 35 of the state's 58 counties are actively vaccinating education workers, the governor's office said. That includes San Francisco, which began Wednesday and made national headlines for suing its own school district to jump-start reopening plans.

-Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press